HOW IS THE CHURCH GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?
PART 8: BEING A WITNESS TO THOSE LIVING IN…
“A RUSH HOUR SOCIETY”
LIVING BY A DIFFERENT NORM
FIRST THOUGHTS: I’M TOO BUSY!
During “lock Down” it became the norm to ask one another “so, how has your week been?”
And my answer seems to have consistently been “Wow! I have been SOOOO busy – busier than ever before!” Wise ones amongst you have said “Whoa! Slow down! You’ve got to let some things go!”
But, it’s what I get paid for – right? My job is to work hard for you, for the church…and that means busy, busy, busy. I mean, what are you going to say if I turned round and said “well, this week I’ve been sitting out in the garden, enjoying the sunshine as I close my eyes and just spend some good, quality time with my Father in heaven – just listening to His voice and basking in the warmth of His presence”? I think that some of you might say “And we’re paying you for this????”
Yet, the wise ones amongst you would hopefully say “that’s good – we look forward as a church to reaping the benefits of this time you are spending with Him”.
Hmmmm…it’s a “tough call” this one.
CAUGHT UP IN THE “RUSH HOUR” SOCIETY
It is said that we live in a “rush hour” society where everything has to be done yesterday and once that is done there is “more at the door” – and deadlines and schedules and targets rule us. And this “rush hour” mentality spills over from the workplace into everyday life: why cook in the oven for an hour when you can microwave it in 5 minutes – and even then you are standing by it – willing it to go “ping”! Why brew coffee when you can make instant? Why prepare a meal when you can get a “take away”? Why cut the grass when you can lay “AstroTurf”?
But, it is often seen to be in the march of technology that we see the “rush hour” culture in “all its glory”. My apologies to my “techie” friends – and let me make it clear that I believe that technology has been such a blessing – not least in our time of “shut down”. But…”I’ve got to get 5G cos 4G is not fast enough”. Really?
Seriously though – there is a real concern (and not just by me) that technology is increasingly ruling our lives to the point of addiction. The Christian commentator, Patrick Dixon puts it like this: “the developed world is cash-rich, time-poor and feels intensely impatient. Chapters of personal life are measured in minutes, major events in seconds. Five billion people are communicating digitally, usually many times an hour on mobiles, unless asleep”.
One measurable effect this has had is the ability to focus on a specific task and the declining attention span – measured at 12 seconds in 2000 and now down to 8.25 seconds in 2015 – compared to a goldfish that has an attention span of 9 seconds!!! What effect does this have on our relationship with God? What does it mean for me as a preacher!!! Is anyone actually listening!!!???
Our mobile phone has become an extra limb. They are our constant companion and draw us with endless distractions. They are in our hands from the moment we wake till we finally go to sleep at night.
Commentators fear that their distractive and addictive tendencies are a greater threat to Christianity today than secularism. The internet, that is behind the Smartphone, dominates all our belief structures – it is where we get our news, our knowledge and our relationships. Its creator – Tim Berners-Lee says he is “devastated” at what it has become. Not only is it making us ever busier, but it is causing us to focus on “stuff” that we’re not even passionate about.
The American pastor John Mark Cromer writes “I live in one of the most secular, post-Christian cities in our nation (Portland, USA), and the longer I’m here, the more convinced I become that hurry is the issue under all the other issues. [It’s] the root cause beneath so much of the anger and anxiety of our cultural moment. And followers of Jesus are not immune to culture’s pain”. We certainly are rushing around and it’s having an impact on us all.
“We Christians have another way: we need to put the phone down, turn the I-pad off, and realise that we have access to something far more powerful, beneficial and life-changing…we need to know the power our devises have over us and be released on this to focus on something far greater…we have access to the Saviour of the world and must not lose touch with Him due to the madness of the rest of life” -says Gavin Calver In “unleashed” (page 114-115).
THE “ANTIDOTE” TO BUSY-NESS: “WAITING” ON GOD
Those disciples of the Early Church were men and women on a mission. Full of the power of the Holy Spirit they fair-exploded out of that upper room on the day of Pentecost and began a pattern of speaking out the Good News of Jesus with “signs and wonders following” that fair-turned the world upside down! They had so much to do and it needed to be done immediately. They must have been in a fair-rush to let as many people as possible know as soon as possible before it was too late – and before too long – unleashed by the persecution that broke out on them – they scattered into the whole Roman world. They were certainly in a fair-rush to get things done…so, it comes as a bit of a surprise that we read the following things…
“Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.” (Acts 3: 1) – where they then ran into the crippled beggar at the Gate Beautiful – going off to spend a “quiet time” with the Lord when they could have been getting on with preaching!
Then, those apostles who were spreading this Gospel told the disciples to choose 7 deacons so that “[we] will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6: 4) – that doesn’t sound like rushing to get on with the job!
Later we hear that Peter was doing a great job in the area around Joppa but rather than rushing around to do more and more and more we hear that “Peter went up on the roof to pray” (Acts 10: 9) – and here he had a vision of a table cloth full of unclean animals that led to the Gospel being spread to the Gentiles.
You know it seems like the more they WITHDREW from the rush and hustle and bustle, the more effective their witness became!
And, as always, they took their example from the life of Jesus who, although He only had 3 short years to change the world for ever, seemed to always make time to get out of the “rush hour” and into a place of quietness:
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5: 16)
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6: 12)
Just two examples here – but if you go through examples of Jesus taking time out to be on His own and pray you will see that these times seem to always precede times of great importance.
There seems to be a different norm here for the disciples and for Jesus than we who live in a rush-hour society and are so often too busy to take time out to just be with the Lord. Yet, was it not John Wesley who said that he found that the more time he had to spend in prayer the more time he seemed to have to do the things that God was calling him to do. He would get up at 4 am and pray for 4 hours before the start of the day – in later life this sometimes increased to 8 hours a day!
There seems to be a clear message here: my experience is that when I am caught in rush-hour traffic it takes me longer to get somewhere than when I am travelling outside of the rush hour! Jesus, the Early Church, John Wesley – all are proof that more is done when we step OUT of the rush!
WHAT DOES “WAITING ON GOD” LOOK LIKE?
I was very challenged last week as I read the UCB “Word for Today” for the 8th July. So, I thought I would share it here with you in full:
You’re in God’s waiting room
‘Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him.’
Psalm 37:7 NKJV
When you’re in a doctor’s waiting room there are things you shouldn’t do – like try to treat other patients, or have them treat you. Or ask the receptionist for a stethoscope or a blood pressure cuff. And it wouldn’t be wise to ask the person sitting next to you, ‘What prescriptions are you taking? Perhaps I could try them.’ It’s called a waiting room because you’re supposed to wait. But we don’t like to wait. We weave through traffic looking for a faster lane. We drum our fingers on the worktop while the microwave heats our coffee: ‘Come on, come on.’ We don’t like to wait for anything, including God. Over and over in Scripture when it speaks about our relationship with God, the word ‘wait’ keeps showing up. And here’s what we fail to understand: while we are waiting, God is working. Jesus said, ‘My Father is always at his work’ (John 5:17 NIV). The sign on God’s waiting room reads ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10 KJV). You can be still because He is active, and you can rest because He is busy. To wait, biblically speaking, is not to assume the worst, or worry, or fret, or make demands, or take control. Waiting is not inactivity. Waiting is sustained effort to stay focused on God through prayer and faith. To wait is to ‘rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him…not fret.’ God is the Great Physician. You are in His waiting room. He knows what ails you better than you do, and He has a prescription to fix it. So trust Him, and wait.
The antidote to a “rush hour” society is indeed to “wait on the Lord” – spend more time with Him, listening to Him, talking with Him. It will necessitate a real effort to step out of the daily “rush hour”. This won’t be easy. This won’t initially feel very comfortable. But it WILL pay dividends: let us remember that in the “rush hour” culture in which we live we will all grow weary but:
they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40: 31 KJ21)
This one verse “says it all”. Here we find the stated antidote for the “rush hour” society in which we live.
- We must “wait upon the Lord”. Yes, this means that we must pull back from the busy-ness in which we constantly find ourselves. But it means SO MUCH MORE. The Hebrew word translated “wait” is “Qavah” – a primitive word that, at its root, speaks of “binding together” (maybe by twisting). What a wonderful picture of what to “wait” means. It is not a distant waiting – as in a waiting room, waiting for someone to come or something to happen. It is a word that speaks of spending quality time with a loved one and getting to know them in such a powerful way that you begin to “bind together” with them – becoming intimate with, becoming one together. It speaks of listening to, and talking with, our Father in Heaven – through prayer, through the Word and through the Spirit.
- And through, or as a result of, this time of “waiting” we are then able to soar – high above the hustle and bustle of this “rush hour” culture. Like an eagle we simply have to stretch out our spiritual wings in order to catch the wonderful, warm, uplifting currents of the Spirit – and allow Him to lift us up into heavenly places. THEN we will be free from the “rush hour” culture in which we live. THEN we will be free to witness to those who are worn down by that very same treadmill of busy-ness.
What an absolutely WONDERFUL thought!
THE CHALLENGE FOR US IN THE “RUSH HOUR” SOCIETY
It is firstly to be aware of where we are living, and be ready to step out of the “rush hour” society and “wait upon the Lord” so that we are renewed – with all the effort and determination that this entails.
So, let us ask ourselves now: do we need to look at our lives and make a firm decision that from this day onwards we are going to choose to step out of the “rush hour” and make the time to “wait upon the Lord”? And let us be clear – to decide this will decidedly be to our advantage…in every way!
Then we will be able to witness to a “frazzled” people who will see the difference in our lives:
We live in a society where increasingly people want the Kingdom but don’t want the King. They want peace and mercy and forgiveness and hope and justice and kindness and equality. But, they will never find it until they find the King who is Lord of this Kingdom. In our mad rush-hour society we must bring the space to just find the King and to spend time with Him and get to know Him
We are not being called to demand that people slow down or get-off their devices and spend more time with God. We are being called to start by living by a different norm ourselves. We DO live in the rush-hour society but that doesn’t have to mean that we are swept along by it. Spend more time waiting on the Lord. Make these oases times in our rush-hour world. And a world that is “frazzled” by the rush-hour culture will naturally – and supernaturally – be attracted to what they see in us.